27 December 2006

15 weak lines on December 27

Dr. T
I have
a great capacity
to reflect.

I cling
to the back fender
of my bike.

* * *

Sleeping pills:
NOW available
in pill form.

* * *


25 December 2006

The weight of butter, and of a mess

He lives all the way over in Wolfville, but Lance La Rocque has been an excellent friend. We don't talk as much as we used to, but we do often have a game of e-chess going (he's won about 15; I've won 2). When he and Lisa lived in Toronto, we used to meet at the Second Cup at Charles and Yonge all the time and play chess. I would beat him more often then. But Lance takes time to think, and I don't.

His poems, too, are intricate and thoughtful, the words loaded. Just have a look at his section of Surreal Estate, or the chapbook of his that I published, The Gross Metaphysics of Meat. He's a quiet and serious poet, like Nelson Ball. Like Nelson, he also doesn't do readings. And I get the feeling he could care less about the politics and the social scenes and the idiotic battles of poetry. I also get the feeling he could care less about audience; I think he's pleased when someone likes his poetry, but that's not what it's about for him. It's about writing poems that please him.

I admire that, and I envy it.

Anyway, in answer to my pleas for research materials on matters pertaining to the psyche and precariousness of existence, Lance has been sending me books that have been really helpful. Most recently, he mailed me his copy of Irvin D. Yalom's Existential Psychotherapy, a very accessible textbook published in 1980. Yalom was a Freudian who turned to an existential bent under the influence of Rollo May.

Like Lance, and most good poets, he writes about serious stuff, but can be really funny, too. Here Yalom paraphrases a story he attributes to Viktor Frankl (author of Man's Search for Meaning):

Two neighbours were involved in a bitter dispute. One claimed that the other's cat had eaten his butter and, accordingly, demanded compensation. Unable to resolve the problem, the two, carrying the accused cat, sought out the village wise man for a judgment. The wise man asked the accuser, "How much butter did the cat eat?" "Ten pounds" was the response. The wise man placed the cat on the scale. Lo and behold! it weighed exactly ten pounds. "Mirable dictu!" he proclaimed. "Here we have the butter. But where is the cat?"

Dana and I have been obsessively watching the first season of 24 (starring Ben Walker lookalike Kiefer Sutherland) over these holidays. And when I'm at home, I've been doing some editing work, maybe a bit of writing, but also working on the endless task of making some sense of my apartment. Its weight is overwhelming. I feel like the cat that disappeared amid the weight of the butter. I sometimes wonder if my overpacked bookshelves are going to one day simply vanish through the floor and land in the apartment of my neighbour, in whose class I was in Grade 2. He used to yell, "Chicken noodle soup!" and everyone laughed. He's very different now.

Oh, there are the books, and then there are the papers. Manuscripts, leaflets, posters, notebooks, letters, invoices, tax crap, cryptic crosswords torn out of the Saturday Globe, five-month-old arts sections from the NYT, manuscripts, and so on.

I've decided to make excavation of my home a steady part-time job. Maybe it will never end. But the act of striving for clarity is worthwhile.

My friend Sandra is also striving for clarity, through her new blog at blissfultimes.ca. Sandra is striving to make sense of much bigger issues. It's an interesting blog. A sort of research blog.

That's what she's doing.

Me, I'm going on and on and on about myself.

Over and out.

24 December 2006

Fewer books via more books

In my unending struggle to whittle down my book collection, I made my second stop at Janet Inksetter's used bookstore for her 50% off sale. Here's what I bought:

Sorrow, by Claribel Alegría (poetry)
Arguing with Something Plato Said, by Jack Collom (poetry)
The Haiku Handbook, by William J. Higginson (non-fiction)
The Constructor, by John Koethe (poetry)
The Poem Poem, by David McFadden (poetry)
The Searchlight, by David McFadden (poetry)
The Browser's Opal L. Nations, by Opal L. Nations (fiction/poetry)
Writing Life Stories, by Bill Roorbach (non-fiction)
These Days, by Frederick Seidel (poetry)
This Imagined Permanence, by Nathalie Stephens (poetry)
Part of My History, by Lewis Warsh (poetry)

The Warsh and Nations were replacements for falling-apart copies. The Higginson used to belong to bp.

The shelves are still pretty much filled at Janet's store (she's bringing stuff up from the basement), and her sale is going on till roughly mid-January.

Over and out.

22 December 2006

As many candles as a spider has eyes

Tonight is the last night of Chanukah. We light all eight candles and we say the baruchas for the last time this year. I like to let the wax build up on the menorah over the course of the eight days of the holiday. And I never clean it off entirely. I think there is still wax on that menorah from candle-lightings by my parents and by my grandparents. I like that accumulation of the generations.

Esther & Rivkah's Latke Party on Tuesday night at Katherine Mulherin's Sideshow was a great success, and the latkes were transcendent. The place was packed all evening, and Dana, Risa, and their two volunteer assistants went through about 50 pounds of potatoes, and a heap of eggs, onions, and cooking oil. Arteries destroyed in the name of art.

Last night we went to see For Your Consideration, which I liked a lot, though it didn't quite rise to the level of the other Christopher Guest movies. Though Parker Posey finally had a substantial role.

So, all in all, a very Jewish week.

Happy Chanukah & over & out.

14 December 2006

Heads & buttz

Tuesday night's Test Reading will go down in history. At least for a few days. Perhaps a lesson about the effects of sauce will resonate. The little cactus in the comic-strip Steven used to yell, "I want sauce!" Well, Jon Paul Fiorentino, who I like very much, regularly jokes, during his readings, about his beer consumption. And as he read, he was heckled, a little incoherently, by a well-sauced Victor Coleman. Victor, who I like very much and who was a mentor to me when I was just a teenage poet reading pretentiously in a Dylan Thomas drone, was out of line. Especially while Jon Paul read an elegy about his own mentor, Robert Allen, who died (or, as they say, when they don't like the word "died," "passed away") not too long ago. So Jon Paul escalated things by making a remark about Coach House, likely a pretty touchy subject for Victor. And thus the escalation proceeded apace, climaxing with the young drunk and the old drunk nearly snout-touching in a dramatic macho game of chicken. Maggie Helwig, the towering brute that she is, stepped between the two lads and defused things.

Victor's new book Icon Tact has just come out from Bookthug and it looks amazing. He's a great poet.

Next up was Simon Pettet from Britain, via a quarter-century stint in NYC. His poems are tiny and precise and strange in a normal kind of way. He reads them twice when he reads. It's remarkable. His first reading is a slow, emphatic exploration of the poem, giving every word what it needs so that it will infiltrate our ears and brains; his second reading is faster, more throwaway, sloppier. He was in Victor's company all afternoon and was thus reeling and swaying a bit, but this might be a rare instance of a reading enhanced by alcohol. Never seen that happen before. During the Q&A, Simon's answers were interminable, but they sure were interesting. Amazing that a guy who writes with such compression speaks with such expansion.

Well, Simon and I were on for Jay MillAr's Speakeasy series last night at This Ain't. For a while, it looked like we'd have an audience of two, but it grew to five. A high-quality five! Thing is, I had worried about this event for a week, and I had spent an entire day putting together my talk about Golden Age black gospel. I also spent $15 on a cab to the place, because I was writing up till the last minute and didn't want to be incredibly late. Had I written out my talk a couple days earlier, and had time to familiarize myself with a little, I probably would have delivered it much more naturally and enjoyably, but I think I did an OK if workmanlike job. It sure was amazing to fill up This Ain't's gallery space with the sounds of the Soul Stirrers, the Swan Silvertones, the Pilgrim Travelers, the Violinaires, and the Dixie Hummingbirds, though. But it was difficult not be a bit disgruntled about the attendance. I mean, man, I've been around for three decades. What exactly does it take?

Now, I thought to myself, "But the publicity sucked. No flyers, no notice in NOW. No Website." And then I thought about the last Fictitious Reading. We did flyers and posters and big mass emailings and a Website ad and a notice in NOW, and got a similar attendance. I know, in the end, it's just the luck of the draw, a matter of who feels like going out on a given night, and who's already been to too many things in this big city filled with literary events. And it's a matter of what's hip.

But Simon Pettet did a fascinating and rare talk on the photographer/filmmaker Rudy Burckhardt, and more people should have been there for it. It was a long, too; as outlined above, that Simon sure can talk. I mean, he spent about 15 minutes just talking about the Philip Lopate blurb on the back of his first book of interviews with Burckhardt. But it was so absorbing: Simon is so interested in words, in every word, in every phrase. He went for two hours, just about, including the screening of a Burckhardt film (on video). I guess those who missed it missed it. The few of us who were there had a great time. And that's what happens in this mug's game.

Over and out.

11 December 2006

So it goes

On Wednesday, December 13, I'm appearing at Jay MillAr's Speakeasy series along with New York poet Simon Pettet. I don't what Simon will be speaking easily on, and I don't yet know what I will speaking easily on, but it happens at 7:30 pm upstairs at This Ain't the Rosedale Library (483 Church Street). I believe admission is by passed hat, and a Q&A follows the talks.

Pettet is reading Tuesday night at Mark Truscott's Test series, along with Jon Paul Fiorentino, who's a swell guy. That happens at Mercer Union (37 Lisgar), 7:30.

Pinochet is dead. Cha-cha-cha. Some astonishing photos of demonstrations both contra and pro are coming out of Chile. Pinochet, like most despicable Latin American dictators, was a creation of U.S. sponsorship. Perhaps his death is symbolic of that country's own crumbling state.

So it goes.

Got together with Tom Walmsley last week. Turns out we hadn't seen each other in about three months. Where the hell does time go? He quit smoking, and I quit Lorazepam. When I met Walmsley about 25 years ago, I don't think I imagined he was a guy I would someday be discussing religion with. I probably also didn't imagine we'd be friends a quarter-century later. Another thing we discussed was the horrible, horrible death of Adrienne Shelly. It's painful even to think about. Hard to shake from the mind, like the murder's in Juan Butler's novel The Garbageman. Apparently just before she became big in her first Hal Hartley film, Shelly was in one of Tom's plays in New York.

Earlier in the week, I met up with David McFadden and handed over my list of choices for his Selected. No idea what he'll think of them: he said he'd be easy-going about it, but I think he's going to dig in. That should make for a better book. Still, I'm a little nervous. Will we have to arm-wrestle over some of my favourites that perhaps he no longer likes? Going through all his books during the past several months has been an amazing experience. He's done astounding things, without any concern about what's trendy in poetry, and gets far too little recognition for it. Hopefully this book will help turn things around a bit.

My own new book of poetry needs some attention: I have to get a final manuscript to Anvil pretty quick. Don't know why I've been dragging my heels on it. Except that I wanted to produce a couple of new Razovsky poems. Wanted to decide the fate of my Ashbery homages. We got the cover art from Gary Clement, someone whose work I've wanted to have on the cover of a book of mine for years. I think it's going to be the most fucked-up cover in the history of Canadian poetry.

Last Wednesday was crazy. Started off at the launch for Coach House's mammoth book on the Canadian Prix de Rome in Architecture winners, which I copyedited. The little architecture bookstore on Markham was jam-packed. Free wine and pretty good munchies. Nice-looking book, compiled by Marco Polo. (Really!)

Then I drove out to the east end for ECW's holiday party at a restaurant/bar whose name I can no longe remember. I was pretty indecisive about going, given my complexity-riddled history with that press. But they've been giving me some good work, and they've been publishing some good books, and I hate the waste of long-lasting feuds, so I went. Got there right at the beginning, so it was just about empty. Nice visit with Al Stencell, whose books on carnival peelers and circus side shows I edited a few years back. Al always has great stories to tell about geeks, punks, and hermaphrodites he's known over the years.

Ended up having a long chat with Michael Holmes, who put my first four big books of poetry through ECW, before I parted ways with the press. So I was a little squirmy when he asked me about my forthcoming Anvil book. Perhaps squirmy in general, and certainly sheepish. "Baaaaaa," I said, quoting a Randy Newman song. Don't really know whether I should be sheepish: I had my reasons for being disgruntled, and they their reasons for being disgruntled with me, I guess. But Michael really made the effort, and we had a good talk. (I enjoyed hearing about his encounter with Mark Strand.)

Then I ate a lot of excellent French fries and bruscetta. Then I talked with Jack about the Rosalie Sharp launch this April. Then I headed out for my third event of the night: the Taddle Creek launch, which I hadn't actually meant to go to. It was at a bar called the Dominion, on Queen near Broadview. Great place. Very nice crowd. Got to chat with Elyse, who I hadn't seen in ages. And Chris Chambers. Johnny Degen. Didn't like any of the readings, but the band was great.

Elyse has a hilarious passage about the invention of poodles in her brilliant first novel, Then Again. I say this so that I can segue to a recent visit I had with Dani Couture. Dani tells me that Goethe says this in his Faust:

"In length and breadth how doth my poodle grow!"

Can it be true? Is she putting me on? Dani and I met at Grapefruit Moon and we brought some books for Show & Tell. She produced a couple of very early small poetry books by her Windsor mentor, John Ditsky. I brought books by two writers who'd had a big influence on me when I was a teenager: Mark Strand (him again) and Joe Rosenblatt. It was a fun kinda meeting. And Dani gave me a copy of her new book, Good Meat, which I hadn't bought because I blurbed it and was hoping for a freebie.

What a rambling entry....

And I'll end with last Friday night's party at InterAccess, where Dana is the director. It was a rec-room party. Sofas, jello shots, Twister, live bands, heaps of grilled-cheese sandwiches, little weiners from cans, goofy old electronic games. Dana figures about 700 people came through over the course of the night. (Can't imagine a literary party attracting that many people!) I ate an awful lot of cheesies.

Over and out.